[Alternate title: Where has all the joy gone? – Answer #4: Sunk in the cesspool of self-absorption]

Consider two manifestations of loss of or lack of joy:

[1] The person who, like the Pharisee in Luke 18, looks at their religious or spiritual accomplishments and qualifications and believes they have made the grade – the result is pride and self-satisfaction.

[2] The person who, having before them an ideal of what they must accomplish by way of spiritual achievements and qualifications, is constantly overwhelmed by their own failure to reach that standard – the result is self-negation, despair and depression.

Both of these are a self-centred approach to life and godliness.
Both of these are outlawed by the Gospel.
Both of these rob us of the joy the Lord gives.

To have the joy of the Lord:

We must repent of this self-centred, self-oriented approach to holiness and piety.
We must stop worrying about what we think of ourselves and what others think of us.
We must focus on the Lord Jesus Christ, and on him alone –
-    On his righteousness not our own.
-    On what others think of him not of us.

Let us consider some scripture passages:

1.    GALATIANS 2:11-14a

Peter, Barnabas, and the others, lost their joy when they started worrying about what the Jerusalem Jews would think of them.

2.    GALATIANS 5:1-6

By demanding of ourselves and others that we keep the law we effectively deny and undo the impact of the Gospel – and the joy is gone.

3.    COLOSSIANS 2:6 – 3:3

Verse 6: continue to live in him
Verse 7: rooted and built up in him
Verse 8: see that no one takes you captive ...
Verse 16: ... do not let anyone judge you  ...
Verse 18: do not let anyone ... disqualify you ...
Verse 20: ... why do you still live as though you belonged to this world ... why do you submit to its rules ...?
3:1: ... set your hearts on things above
3:2: Set your minds on things above ...

All of these verses, in context, draw our attention to the Christian’s union with Christ. Paul brings this to a startling conclusion:

3:3 ‘For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.’

At the very centre of the Gospel is this impactive truth: that in the death of Christ the Christian died. The Christian’s actions have ceased to determine their acceptance or rejection by God. The Christian’s actions no longer impact God’s verdict on the Day of Judgement. They have died. Christ, and all that he did in his life and in his death, is now their life [3:4].

Our sinful hearts and minds will always tend to give either negative or positive significance to our actions when we think about our relationship with God. When we give them negative significance the joy of our salvation disappears into a whirlpool of self-negation and despair. When we give them positive significance the joy of our salvation similarly disappears into a demanding vortex where both pride and pressure constantly consume us.

4.    PHILIPPIANS 3:1-11

In these verses Paul commands us to rejoice not in our own religious résumé, not in our own perceived righteousness, but in the righteousness of Christ credited to us by the Gospel.

We are to boast, to glory, to rejoice in nothing of our own, but always, ever and only in Christ.


Self-absorption – whether the despair of self-negation, or the pride of self-satisfaction – can never generate permanent joy.

Christ, and his gift of righteousness, is the one source and ground of joy.

We believe in Christ – not in ourselves.

Let us therefore escape from the cesspool of self-absorption and self-importance into the glorious and indescribable joy of trusting, of resting, in Christ alone.

Let us ‘rejoice in the Lord’.  

© Rosemary Bardsley 2017